It's Halloween, boys and ghouls, which can mean only two things: horrible puns and bowl projections. And, for the first time in years, utter, stunning confusion on the part of SMQ, who used to know which bowls existed, when, and, generally, who had a chance to play in them.
Uh, not no more. Both ESPN and CBS rock the postseason predictions this week with very official guesses in a litany of random names and dates scattered across almost a full month, from the somewhat familiar mid-December into unheard-of dates approaching mid-January. Thirty-two of these things are scheduled for 2006-07, rendering most of them meaningless. But much more disturbing is the mass migration of the most insignificant games from "traditional" December dates, when the scarcity of the intervening three weeks since the end of the regular season makes them almost attractive in a Black Coaches' Classic sort of way, to after the New Year, when these dogs could conceivably be confused with contests of tradition and integrity.
The bowl season has always worked in a sort of pecking order that dictated prestige by date: lame games named after cities and regions (Las Vegas, New Orleans, Mobile, Fort Worth, Silicon Valley, et al) knew their place in the earliest slots, not-horrible games of some history made respectable showings after Christmas (the "Bowl Week" stretch of Liberty, Holiday, Sun, Peach, etc.) and long-standing bastions of the sport rolled with appropriate fanfare on New Year's Day. Anything after Jan. 1 is rigidly roped off to anyone not on the explicitly mythical championship-influencing list.
Now we have unanimous opinion that Western Michigan will be playing Jan. 6 or 7, along with some combination of Ohio, Central Michigan, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Houston, East Carolina or, god forbid, Southern Miss, via the oft-slung GMAC (you might know it as the Mobile Alabama) and International bowls. Both of these games are scheduled well after the roped-off BCS affairs and directly preceding the mythical Championship Game; the once-honorable New Year's Eve date is occupied solely by the MPC Computers Bowl, where either Idaho, San Jose State or Nevada will face a very embarrassed Florida State, Miami or Maryland.
Also, games now exist in Birmingham, New Mexico, Texas (where, exactly? And how is this bowl most representative of an entire state that has four other, well-established games?) and some place outside of the country, as insinuated by the aforementioned International Bowl. The Armed Forces Bowl, apparently, is not contractually obligated to select one of the service academies. New/confusing sponsors this year include Allstate (replacing Nokia for the Sugar Bowl), Brut (Sun Bowl), PetroSun (not the Sun Bowl, as one might expect, but rather the Independence) and Bell Helicopter (the new Armed Forces Bowl). SMQ still refuses to accept the Peach Bowl with only the name of its corporate sponsor, or the Independence sans the immortal "Poulan Weedeater."
In actual matchups, consensus is hard to come by. We can be certain, the experts assure us, that Ohio State is heading the mythical championship, against West Virginia by the estimation of all but Ivan Maisel, who thinks Auburn will somehow slip in to ensure the maximum amount of chaos. California and Michigan should reserve Rose Bowl tickets; Notre Dame will party down amidst the appalling, very un-Catholic antics surrounding the Sugar Bowl. Texas and Boise State are in the Fiesta. Wisconsin is a lock for the bowl that used to be the Citrus, Oklahoma for the Citrus, TCU for the Armed Forces, Utah for the Poinsettia, Tulsa and Alabama for the Liberty and - gasp! - Southern Cal for the Holiday. This we know.